Integrating the Geospatial Industry and the Need for Open Standards: the View from Autodesk
We are at a watershed today in the geospatial industry.
On the one hand we are faced with high demand for infrastructure
projects, driven by the current state of U.S. infrastructure, which
garnered a "D" grade by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE)
in 2004, and by the rapid growth of emerging economies such as China
and India. On the other hand we grapple daily with a scarcity of
engineering and geospatial professionals, which will only become more
pronounced as many baby boomers reach retirement age.
These conflicting forces, an abundance of work and scarcity of staff,
are driving government institutions, engineering companies, utility
companies and others to adopt creative strategies to address the gap
between great demand and limited resources. Government institutions and
engineering firms are adopting productivity tools. Government agencies
with over-extended staffs are contracting with engineering firms, not
just for the design and construction work, but the operations and
management of entire infrastructure projects. Engineering and GIS firms
are contracting to their counterparts globally, as well as buying
smaller firms to access engineering talent. At the end of the day, as
functions share, collaborate and cross-pollinate, the civil engineering
and geospatial industries are rapidly converging.
At Autodesk we have seen customer after customer welcome, and even
drive, this integration. From the U.S. Air Force to the Las Vegas
Valley Water District and the City of Tacoma, we're seeing GIS
specialists adopt a more sophisticated approach that draws from design
information available through multiple CAD and GIS systems and uses a
centralized spatial database from a traditional database vendor like
Oracle. Unwilling to merely bolt these CAD and GIS systems together as
they've done in the past or suffer poor data translation, they are
demanding a seamless and symbiotic integration of technology. They
still want the best tool for the job, but they expect that tool to work
with other technologies.
The Need for Open Standards
The rapid integration and expansion occurring in the industry is
creating havoc where disparate systems exist, and the market is noisily
demanding interoperability. Three phenomenon are in play: (1)
engineering firms are taking on many GIS functions on top of their CAD
functions, (2) GIS specialists are collaborating more closely with
engineers, and (3) as job functions merge to manage the entire
infrastructure lifecycle the market is demanding a common language that
works across disciplines. From interoperability guidelines for data
exchange to spatial data infrastructures to a common infrastructure for
decision support, the market is demanding open standards.
We have had a taste of what exposed interfaces can do for the industry.
At the consumer application level, Google Earth has had an energizing
effect developers have "mashed up" applications with Google's APIs to
develop innovative applications, and the experiment has been so
successful that Microsoft and Yahoo! have followed suit, providing
their mapping APIs to the community.
There are limitations, however, to developing only with published but
proprietary interfaces as opposed to a full geospatial Web services
platform based on open standards. The industry requires open
standards. These standards should be developed in an open consensus
process to allow developers to host and publish compelling commercial
applications and to give users more control over their data.
To this end, Autodesk participates in the Open Geospatial Consortiums
(OGC) standards process and implements OGC standards in our products.
Seven products can be found here.
MapGuide is one of Autodesk's products that include support for OpenGIS
Web Map Server (WMS) and Web Feature Server (WFS) Implementation
Specifications. Last year we contributed the source code for the
extensive MapGuide mapping platform to the open source community via
the Open Source Geospatial Foundation (OSGEO).
Since opening the code, we've seen interest from a range of
organizations, including many local municipalities in the U.S., where
open source developers are beginning to create innovative and powerful
new applications with MapGuide Open Source and its open interfaces.
We believe leveraging open standards and open source are important
prerequisites for the growth of the industry.
Mapping the Geospatial Industry's Future
As we map our future, we plan to continue to help develop open
standards and to implement open standards in our technology. Just as
urban planners approve standards for land use, roads and other
infrastructure, setting the stage for our cities' healthy growth, we
need to work with others to develop open standards to support future
growth in the use of geospatial technology.
The opportunities seem limitless, with approximately 80 percent of
business and government information having some reference to location,
and we are on the verge of explosive growth. However we must first
clear the path with open standards that enable users to freely exchange
and apply geospatial information, applications and services across
networks, platforms and products. Sure, there will be many challenges
along the road as we determine the best ways to go about this, but we
are confident that the industry-wide effort facilitated by OGC will
provide us with what we need to best serve our constituents, our
clients and our communities.